ACE Brief Illustrates HBCU Funding Inequities
Published: January 22, 2019

Despite efforts to counter a historical legacy of inequitable funding and investments by federal and state governments, resource inequities continue to plague historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), according to findings released by ACE in an issue brief, Public and Private Investments and Divestments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities

HBCUs are critical access points to postsecondary education and serve an important function in promoting educational attainment, particularly for many black students. In addition, these institutions serve a significant proportion of first-generation students and those who require financial assistance to afford college—a growing segment of the college-going demographic within the United States.

HBCUs play a pivotal role in American society, representing about 3 percent of two-year and four-year public and private nonprofit institutions that participate in federal student financial aid programs, but award 17 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by black students. Over the last 20 years, HBCUs have also played a major role in graduating black students with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. 

Other key findings include:

  • Public HBCUs rely on federal, state, and local funding more heavily than their non-HBCU counterparts (54 percent of overall revenue vs. 38 percent). 
  • Private HBCUs are also more tuition-dependent than their non-HBCU counterparts (45 percent tuition-dependent compared with 37 percent tuition-dependent).
  • Private gifts, grants, and contracts make up a smaller percentage of overall revenue for private HBCUs relative to their non-HBCU counterparts (17 percent vs. 25 percent). 
  • Both public and private HBCUs experienced the steepest declines in federal funding per full-time equivalent student between 2003 and 2015, with private HBCUs seeing a 42 percent reduction—the most substantial of all sectors.
  • Within both public and private sectors, HBCU endowments lag behind those of non-HBCUs by at least 70 percent.

The authors say these gaps jeopardize an HBCU’s ability to buffer ongoing decreases in state and federal funding. This issue brief was authored by Krystal L. Williams, assistant professor of higher education at the University of Alabama and senior research fellow at the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute at the United Negro College Fund. It was co-authored by BreAnna L. Davis, a senior evaluation associate at School Readiness Consulting and a former graduate student research fellow at the United Negro College Fund.